Through the photographs of Jean PHILIPPE and the writings of Serge VERLIAT, geographer and anthropologist, the exhibition entitled "Water, treasure of the Himalayas" invites us to follow the path taken by water and discover the importance of this valuable resources in one of the most fascinating regions in the world. This meeting with Serge VERLIAT reveals the secrets of his journey to the kingdom of the snow…
How did this project come about?
Serge Verliat – For many years, I have had the opportunity to visit the Himalayas; not so much the domain of the snow but that of men, life, rivers and sacred lakes. During my geographical and anthropological research, I have shared in the daily life of peasants who cling to the mountain slopes. A daily fight for survival. A return to basics. A great lesson in courage and zest for life. I have always wanted to share this experience, to pay tribute to the splendour of these mountains, to testify to the exceptional purity of this environment where the dawn of the world seems far less distant. In order to meet this challenge you need a real photographic eye, one that is accustomed to working in unforgiving environments and conditions that are not always easy. On the island of Réunion, I met Jean PHILIPPE, a lover of the Cirque de Mafate, Réunion’s own Himalayas, which he has photographed extensively in order to preserve the traces of a vanished way of life. I had little trouble convincing him to come with me to the Himalayas to put the eye of an established photographer to the service of a project that has long been close to my heart. To celebrate the beauty and diversity of Himalayan waters, and capture all its fragility!
What does water represent for Hindus?
For Hindus, the Himalayas are the land of eternal snow, the land of the gods. All springs, rivers and lakes are sacred. They are evidence of the generosity of the gods, the most striking manifestation of their compassion. The purity of the water is the incarnation of divine perfection. It allows you to regain the original purity that is sullied by daily life. For this reason, bathing in these holy waters is the ultimate rite of purification that punctuates the life of Hindus… until they die. At such point, a water course in which to cast their ashes is essential. Dissolving them completely ensures the body entirely disappears, a prerequisite for future reincarnation. In these societies, obsessed by purity, water crystallises all the fears that pervade the minds of men. Who can I share my water with? This essential question for Hindus has led to society being divided into castes and to a complex stratification into innumerable sub-castes. Beyond these divisions, water remains connected with women, the night, the serpent, the female face of the forces that make up the world. No one can escape this matrix and it befits everyone to venerate it…. Nowhere in the world is water venerated to this extent… yet this has not necessarily created an individual awareness of the need to protect this precious treasure. The current issues surrounding Himalayan water go far beyond the needs of Himalayan people.
What are these issues surrounding Himalayan water?
Because of their size, the Himalayas are an effective climatic barrier. While precipitation is counted in centimetres on the dry northern side, the southern side receives the full brunt of the generous monsoon rainfall every year and is therefore the source of thousands of rivers. The lives of over a billion people depend on this formidable 2500km-long reservoir. Now there are plans to take this Himalayan water even further … to irrigate the thirsty plains of India and China. The greatest challenge, however, is the awe-inspiring energy potential of Himalayan water. Nepal alone has greater hydroelectric potential than the United States! The stuff of dreams for a country where the capital city suffers from daily power cuts and where most villages still sleep in the dark.
To see this exhibition, visit the Pavillon de l’Eau, Paris before 26 May 2012.